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London 2012's legacy under the spotlight as end of Games nears

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From Wimbledon to Wembley Stadium to The Dome, a look at the venues for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

LONDON -- With the end of the Paralympic Games four days away, Londoners are being promised a bright Olympic legacy of new jobs, homes and park space – but some in the city’s poorest neighborhoods are already questioning whether they will see any long-term benefit.

The regeneration of post-industrial East London was a cornerstone of the city’s bid to host the 2012 Games, and work has already begun on finding new users for the permanent venues and on transforming the 550-acre park into a new community with almost 3,000 new homes as well as schools and leisure space.

“This is a generational project – it may be 20 years before we see the full benefit of the work being done today,” Dennis Hone, chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation, told NBC News.

The future of seven of the eight permanent Olympic Park venues has been decided, with the striking Orbit sculpture becoming a visitor attraction and the Copper Box – which hosted pentathlon, fencing and handball during the Games – turned into a multi-purpose sport and entertainment venue.


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On Wednesday, a conference heard how the 700,000 square foot International Broadcast Center – the building through which television pictures of the sporting action were edited and distributed to a global audience of billions - is to be turned into a technology quarter with office space for digital and creative start-up companies, studios, and a high-powered data center. The iCITY project, led by a private developer, aims to capitalize on East London’s growing reputation as a destination for designers, artists and creative entrepreneurs.

Andy Rain / EPA

Crowds make their way out of the Olympic Park at Stratford during the London 2012 Paralympic Games on Monday.

“We estimate that it will create 4,000 jobs, plus another 2,000 in the wider local community,” Richard Gibbs, business development director of iCITY, told NBC News.

But some in that community – particularly in Stratford, the poverty-stricken district bordering the Olympic Park - are unconvinced that they will see any of the promised benefits. “The good jobs will go to people from outside the area who have skills and education,” said Judith Garfeld, director of local charity Eastside Community Heritage. “The rest will be the same part-time, low-skilled service jobs that we already have.

“They are creating a new community on the site of the park but there is no sense that those of us who already live here will see any long-term legacy from the Olympics.”

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Landscaping will be carried out to turn the grass and waterside areas into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, with efforts underway to encourage wildlife into what used to be a contaminated industrial zone.

Up to 7,000 people will move into the athletes’ village, whose 2,818 dormitory-style apartments are being converted into proper living spaces to be known as East Village. A housing association will take over 1,379 of the homes, making about half available to those on local council social housing lists and the rest sold through government-sponsored shared-ownership and shared-equity schemes designed to ease young people into London’s sky-high property market. The remaining homes will be available on the private market, mostly for rent.

“It will be very nice for those people, but all it will do is push up the rent and the prices for everyone else in the area,” said a hot dog stand owner who gave his name to NBC News as Tony. “I don’t think it will change things for us.”

Alastair Jamieson / NBC News

Some local business owners in the Stratford area of East London think the legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games will not benefit their community. A hot dog stand owner, who gave his name only as Tony, said new homes on the site of the Olympic Park would be for wealthier incomers.

He said his stand in Stratford market – a stone’s throw from the main entrance to the Olympic Park – had seen only a 10 per cent rise in business during the Games, despite up to a quarter of a million visitors per day passing through the nearby station on their way to the venues.

“They all got channeled out of the station and straight into the Olympic Park – we hardly saw any of them,” he said.

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Stall holder, Angela Brown, who sells flags from around the world, said locals had been left “very disappointed” despite being excited about the Games.

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“It was an exciting time and fantastic to meet people from all over world, but in terms of business it has been really, really bad,” she said. “The athletes wandered over but we didn’t see as many spectators as we hoped for.”

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Much of the bitterness is aimed at the glitzy new Westfield shopping mall, abutting the Olympic Park, whose huge increase in traffic made it one of the few immediate economic winners from London’s $14.3-billion Games.

“Although Westfield has created jobs, they are low-skill shop jobs,” Garfield said. “Local kids hang around there but they can’t afford to buy anything, it’s not for local people. On the day a local kid got stabbed to death there they didn’t even close the doors.”

Elizabeth Dalziel / AP, file

Landscaper Jack Hunn builds a kingfisher nest, hidden at the bottom of the Olympic Stadium, on June, 20. Once the massive crowds go home, it is hoped bats will find themselves taking up residence in boxes around the park, part of a lasting environmental legacy for East London's Olympic Park.

Officials insist there has been wider economic benefit. “The cake has got bigger,” Hone said. “It isn’t about places like Westfield take a slice away from others. It may take time, but the whole area will get a lift from this regeneration.”

One of the biggest legacy questions remains unresolved: the future of the 80,000-seat $700-million main Olympic stadium.

Local soccer teams West Ham and Leyton Orient are among the bidders to become permanent tenants of the site, along with a sporting college and an ambitious scheme to host Formula One racing, the London Evening Standard reported. A final decision will be made next month.

Despite the lack of certainty, International Olympic Committee chairman Jacques Rogge believes London’s planning has set the bar high for future host cities.

“There is a lot of things London has done, with probably also a better care for sustainability and legacy than many other cities in the past,” he told an Olympic news conference last month. 

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